Unified communications and collaboration has promised much in support of business transformation and productivity over the last few years. In reality, today most of us use more, rather than fewer, tools to communicate. In a normal day, I can use a random combination of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Keevio, SMS, IRC or Slack, any one of Google's three messaging apps, or plain old phone calls. Even the Foreign Office found that rather than make use of specially tailored government tools, many British diplomats use WhatsApp to discuss sensitive issues (according to a recent internal report). These tools all lack universal interoperability, meaning for many businesses communication is in fact getting more fragmented.
Failure of organisations or their IT teams to provide collaborative tools that offer the right functionality and ease of use, will result employees continuing to use their own alternatives to discuss and make important decisions. This will fragment communications further and lead to massive complexity in terms of traceability and accountability.
Another issue is swapping from a task to another application or tool to communicate, which means context switching. We're always talking to different people inside and outside of the business about specific job functions, or serving customers. But this constant switching is notoriously distracting, causing quantifiable inefficiencies and productivity loss. This is most profound at the receiver's end of the communication, where there is workflow interruption without context about the nature communication they're about to receive.
The underlying technology used by UC&C has moved on substantially in the last few years and many tools now exist online and operate as cloud based web apps without plug-ins, which can be accessed easily from anywhere. The next step is contextual communications, which takes advantage of the new generation of ‘always on' apps, and will fundamentally change how we conduct task oriented communication. This effectively integrates rich communication interactions with applications themselves, or, as Dean Bubley at Disruptive Analysis says, it's about: "both placing voice/video in context (e.g. embedded into an app, website or device) and applications which use contextual information to help the user achieve a particular objective or purpose."
This approach will deliver fluid communications, integrated and immediate, aligning with how employees work and how customers interact with businesses and service providers. Apps will implement beautifully designed interactions which perfectly meet their users' needs on whatever device they are choosing to interact. Communications will happen in the way people expect, and in fact, ultimately will not be recognisable as a distinct, friction-bearing operation.
The context of a contact centre provides a great way to visualise how contextual communications might work. For example, a service agent might be better able to predict the reason for a customer's call by knowing which web page they're on, how they got there and what other services they use, thereby having a better chance to quickly and successfully help that customer.
Entirely new services could also be created, for example within forward-thinking units of the NHS who have already started to explore how they can revolutionise mental health provision to young people with remote counselling. Housing associations, and other organisations that provide accommodation to vulnerable people, are already improving daily contact for thousands of people with real time communication software. By analysing patterns of communication they can identify when the cognitive state of an individual is changing, and give a predictive assessment about the needs of every resident calling in to them before that call is even answered. Successful companies will create processes based on data analytics and what they know about their customer in a similar way.
Ultimately, communication will simply become something that happens as we move in and out of the collaboration or communication phase of a task. The best contextual applications will provide this in a work environment by meshing in all the information needed to effectively exchange real-time and non-real time communication flows which are appropriate to the phase of each task. And the winners will be those applications that help users according to their context in a way that is intuitive.
Rob Pickering is CEO of unified commnications technology firm IPCortex
To find out more about what network monitoring - particularly in the area of unified communications - can do for your business, check out out our UC&C content hub, built in association with experts from NetScout.
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